Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Churchapreneurs: get your programs!

(a churchapreneur is a pastor of a local church who views his church as a product to be marketed and sold for profit and influence)

Being a churchapreneur is fun for a whole lot of reasons: you get to build a big business, make lots of money, have all kinds of people worship you, and while you are at it have a whole lot of fun participating in cutting edge church programs. Any churchapreneur worth his salt knows Americans love to have fun; so one of the best ways to reel in the customers is to make church exciting and fun. Right along side having trendy music, which targets and caters to your particular demographic, you need to have fun programs for all ages in order attract those new customers, and to keep the current customers satisfied and coming back for more.

It used to be, about a generation ago, when “small groups” were the cool thing and churchapreneurs were just starting to carve out their niche in the evangelical world, that you could get away with having a hippie play Bible songs on an acoustic guitar while group members sat in a circle in a casual setting. You could have the group meetings in a cozy room at the church around a fire place – you know –to create that needed sense of atmosphere that made people feel comfy. Then after the music, the group would study the Bible by encouraging each person to “share” how they felt about the Bible passage or topic under discussion. A good small group meeting was usually capped off with a time of splitting up into prayer teams, getting vulnerable with each other, and praying over your neighbors problems.

Today, that just wont work. Having a souped up small group ministry just wont deliver the cache of customers it used to, because too many churches caught wind of the small group ministry idea and next thing you know, all the churches in town were doing it; so the only way a churchapreneur could create that competitive edge was to come up with some new kind of programs. Now it seems, the race is on to have new and cooler and more cutting edge programs. For the young ones there are "ministry specialists" who can help you learn the art and science of children's ministry. For instance, at Children's Ministry University Online, you can learn "the practical steps to Cultivating a Cutting-Edge Children's Church." http://www.cmuo.com/workshops/kidschurch/ Through this web cast you can learn from the "professionals" all you need to know to have that difference making children's program that is sure to entice those soccer moms to church. If its the teenage crowd you are after you could follow the model of G.A.P. Teen Church where they make " radical teenagers" and have "anointed worship, human videos, skits, and more. " http://www.gapteenchurch.org/Page_7.aspx?id=216749 If you want something really, really cool and on the true cutting edge of youth ministry programs you absolutely need to keep in touch with what is going on at Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA. After all, this is home to America's favorite pastor, Rick Warren, and located where they are, in the heart of Orange County, they just have a nose for what is cool. http://www.saddlebackfamily.com/blogs/hsm/index.html

There can be not doubt that children's programs are crucial for the churchapreneur because in our youth worshiping culture, if you can put together a program that kids really like, you can be sure one of the parents will be more than happy to drive Johnnie and Suzy down to the church for it. But, if you want to keep those parents entertained after they drop the kidz off or if you want to really burnish your credentials as a top notch businessman, you need to come up with something that will reach those parents. So if its moms that you are after and you really want to do something cool for the Botox babes who drive big SUV's and are always found packing a Starbucks cup, you cant afford to have the business as usual programs. You need to have women's programs that are "spiritual" yet at the same time also say "we're cool" and have the kind of star power quality that would entice all the suburban, upper middle income, into the cool, type mom's. Now to reach this finicky yet important target group you need look no further than the ultra cool woman's program of Mosaic church called "she". http://www.shecommunity.org/index.html A link on the web site gives you just a little taste of what "she" is all about:
SHE Connects, SHE Teaches, SHE Invests, SHE Nurtures, SHE Creates, SHE Rocks and so much more ... SHE was created to be a voice of hope. Our desire is to connect to you to a community of authenticity as you discover where you can most "come alive" and discover your unique voice.

Now, if that does not reach all the cool mom's out there, I don't know what will. Churchapreneur, you might as well throw out all of your half-baked women's program ideas and make a b-line for Mosaic and figure out how to do "she" because once you figure it out, or come up with something similar, you are on your way to an expanding business.

I want to treat men's programs in a separate category here, primarily because every churchapreneur knows just how hard it is to carve out a growing customer base in this demographic. Let's face it, men are the tough nuts to crack because they tend to be suspicious of the gimmicky and don't like all that emotional, touchy feely stuff that churches are often into. After all, what man wants to get vulnerable and be transparent and cry? That is just not what we are in to. So the challenge of the churchapreneur is to come up with a men's program which says up front to the would be inquirer that there will be no Kleenex at this men's meeting, just surfacy male-bonding type stuff. For years, and for obvious reasons, church softball teams have been the staple of men's ministries. Lately churcharpreneurs have been coming up with more innovative approaches however. One approach we have already blogged about here on calvinontap is the so-called "GUY CHURCH." This is that movement where church buildings are designed to look like hunting lodges inside and where the guys get together, beat on their chests, and get their primal instinct on over meals which consist of game harvested out in the wilds. These are called "beast feasts" (of course) and the only paper products found there are going to be extra large Bounty paper towels for wiping off greasy hands that have been wrapped around a rack of ribs (natures finest!). But if you want to really learn how to reach the truly masculine men you need to go to GUTS Church. http://gutschurch.com/ This churchapreneur really has a handle on how to reach those hard to reach guys. Their headline event for men is called "Tougher Than Hell" which is an annual biker rally aimed at reaching you know who. For more details you can consult the ministry web site. http://www.tougherthanhell.com/ So there you have it, just a few idea starters for programs to help reel in the tough-guys.

Well, that is it, the churchapreneurs one-two punch: music and programs. The successful churchapreneur always has both. Worship music is bound to only reach a certain segment of the target audience, but worship music combined with fun, cutting edge programs definitely helps carve out that big slice of market pie that every businessman is hungry for. Stop and think about it, what could be better, a place where you can get a little religion, meet a few new people, and have a whole lot of fun while you are doing it; now that's an incredible business concept!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Churchapreneurs: worship is the key to success

YouTube - Mars Hill Worship Service Seattle
If you are really, really cool, and on the cutting edge of churchapreneuriship, this is what worship will look like. This clip of course, is taken from the "calvinistic" churchapreneur franchise of Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church. Driscoll is "calvinistic," with a small "c" for Calvinism, because he, like the typical churchapreneur, is too arrogant to subscribe to any historically Reformed confession, since, after his extensive study, he cannot find one he entirely agrees with (surprise), so instead, he crafted his own Driscoll creed which maintains elements of Protestant orthodoxy while remaining consumer friendly. His real genius however, lies not in his doctrinal acumen, rather, it is in his ability to define his target demographic and provide them with just the right worship ambiance he knows they are searching for.

Driscoll, in his Confessions of A Reformission Rev., describes some of his struggles as an early churchapreneur in finding the right worship leader and worship band. In one place (p.63), he relates the day that confirmed to him that Mars Hill Church would not be a place where everyone was welcome. Apparently, a family with a troop of children, skilled in the lost art of playing handbells, wanted to have a prominent role in the worship service. After watching them rehearse once, he realized he did not want them playing, or even coming to his church. The interesting thing about this episode, understood from the broader context of the book, is that Driscoll understood that if he was to reach a young adult target audience, he had to find hip, cool music, that would connect with them, in order to both attract and keep them. This is a classic churchapreneur move: find the people, find out what the people want, and then give it to them. That does not necessarily mean you find out what the people who are currently at church want; rather, it means, find out what the target audience, the potential church wants and then make sure its in place if and when they do show up.

That last thought leads us back to churchapreneur basics: goal, strategy, and tactics. The goal is an enthusiastic and expanding customer base; the strategy is to maintain a culturally relevant worship ambiance; and the tactic is worship and programs that really connect with the target audience. Churchapreneurs are very calculating businessmen. They understand that you cannot be successful by targeting everyone, because not everyone is useful for your purposes. So, the savvy and successful churchapreneur finds his target audience first: young and cool, thirty-somethings with growing families, or baby-boomers with empty nests. Once that target audience has been established, then he will be able figure out the precise worship ambiance and tactics that are needed in order to start reeling the new customers in.

Just work with this principle for a moment and you will be able to better understand the churchapreneur around the corner from you. For instance, if the franchise has either a piano, keyboard and acoustic guitar along with a middle aged worship leader, and sings songs out of a song book that sound soft, nice, and inspiring to Ann Murray or Barry Manilow sounding tunes, you know that the target audience is primarily baby boomers with an empty nest. This could be the target because the community is located in a sunbelt area and is inhabited by retirees and AARP members. It could also be this way because the church was once "traditional" in its worship (used an organ, piano, hymnbook, and had no worship leader) but has made the risky decision to become "more attractive" to the younger crowd, so the target audience is really older people, but the ambiance says "hey, we are youth friendly too," or so it thinks. However, if the church uses multiple instruments (guitars, drums, keyboard, etc.,), projects lyrics on multiple large screens (you know, the kind people who still have good eyesight can see), and has a cool looking, fun, spontaneous, light footed guy leading the worship, you are definitely in a franchise that is targeting thirty-somethings with kids. These people are still "young at heart" but worship cannot have the mayhem of a concert because that would set a bad example for the kids. The larger band with the peppy worship leader attracts the younger people (obviously), but maintains the order and consistency that young families need, without all the stuffy formality and traditionalism of the church they grew up in.

HOWEVER, if the franchise has a concert look and feel during worship, as in the example above from the Mars Hill Church, the target audience is clearly the 18-34 demographic. In this case, the churchapreneur knows his target audience is "edgy" and wants no part of the conservative, predictable, half-cool, out of touch and out of style worship that the thirty-somethings with families want. Here, what is unpredictable, trendy (in various sub-cultures), artistic, and creative is what's going to be on tap. This sort of style appeals effectively to the college educated, organically grown coffee-drinking, young adult crowd. Of course, that is not to say that older folk wont be found here, though the ones who do gravitate toward this tend to be the life-long hippie, anti-establishment types or the mid-life crisis types searching for some venue to re-live their younger but all too tame years.

So, what is churchapreneur worship like? Easy, its whatever the target is like; taste the style and you will find the target. That is the genius of the churchapreneur, and the key to growing the business. See, for churchapreneurs, building a business is "as easy as one, two, three." Remember how the original churchapreneur Billy Hybels put it: What is our business? Who is the customer? What does the customer consider value?. If we tweak this pithy little phrase by changing the last question to "what worship style does the customer want?" we will understand how to make it as the next big churchapreneur.

For more information on churchapreneurs and worship, consult the following:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

UFC 91: Couture v. Lesnar

In reading the predictions by the experts about this fight, it looks like a majority side with Randy, but all give Brock a chance based on his size, strength, and wrestling ability. As much as I am a fan of Randy, and think he is all-around the best guy (not best fighter) in the sport, I am going against the majority and am picking Brock. First of all, this is a bad match up at a bad time for Randy. I was watching the UFC 91 preview the other night and they were showing old Randy, you know, before he was old. That Randy was thicker and more powerful, and on account of that, he was able to hang in the heavyweight division against guys who had the mass and size of a Kevin Randleman. Today, Randy is much leaner and lighter, and he just does not have the thickness and strength to keep up with a guy as powerful and massive as Brock. I know Randy has fought guys like Tim Sylvia since moving back up to heavyweight at this lighter, leaner weight, but Tim Sylvia is no comparison to Brock. He is not as strong or mobile, and his base is nowhere near as solid as Brock's, so Randy was able to keep him off balance, tie him up, and use that to get some good strikes and takedowns. That wont happen with Brock though. Second, Randy's clinch game is not going to work on Brock. Brock will be able to shuck the clinch off with his power and keep out of it with his speed. But, if Randy does get a clinch lockup, I think Brock will just use it to ram Randy into the cage, either breaking the clinch or then use it to take Randy down once he has him up against the fence. Third, Randy must be very careful with trying to engage in a striking match up. Yes, Brock has not been tested here. We don't know what kind of a chin he has, and we don't know if is able to allude and block punches and kicks. However, we do know that when guys get close enough for him to connect, he can send them flying across the ring with a short, snappy blow, like he did with Heath Herring. Randy must be very careful if he wants to try to keep this thing standing up. Besides having to fear a counter-strike, he also has to worry about being taken down by Brock if he chooses to stand and trade. So a striking game is going to be difficult to pull off. I think the best striking game plan Randy could come up with is the one Marco Ruas pulled off on a much larger Paul Varelin. but Randy has never shown that kind of game or skill before. If he has developed it in preparation, then hats off to Randy. Fourth, when this fight hits the ground, its not a great place for Randy simply because Brock's size and wrestling skill neutralize Randy's greatest strength. I just don't seem him pulling off a submission, and I don't see him riding a top position and just wearing Brock out. So even on the ground, where on paper, Randy has an edge, I still don't see it working out for him.

I call this fight for Brock somewhere before the end of the fourth round. At some point Brock's size is going to be too much even for a cardio freak like Randy to push around, he will get tired and Brock will secure a stoppage via strikes. I seek the night ending with an interim belt around Brock's waist and hopefully looking forward to a rematch with Frank Mir after he beats Nogueira.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Churchapreneurs: the marks of your local franchise (church)

Given what we have said to this point about churchapreneurs, what we are going to say about the marks of a churchapreneur church won’t come as much of a surprise. What it may do however is explain to you why your church looks and feels like it does. For many Christians, that I meet, they have one of two backgrounds: Roman Catholic or non-denominational Protestant. Those backgrounds leave a profound and lasting impression upon them. The Roman Catholic, though he or she rarely goes to church, knows that church is supposed to be formal, and that all the action in worship is objective and centers around the priest up front who performs the ritual of the Mass, while the non-denominational worshiper knows church is supposed to be casual and all the action in worship is supposed to leave them emotionally charged after the experience. Whether it’s the music, the lighting, the sound system, the skit, or the pastors extra “powerful” message, everything is crafted to make an emotional impact upon the non-denominational worshiper. Beyond that, if you dig deeper with either of these worshipers you will find that for the Roman Catholic they see that church gives them an identity that transcends themselves and their culture, uniting them in identity both with believers in other cultures stretching around the world and with believers in the past; while on the other hand, the non-denominational worshiper finds no such identity in his or her church, save only the shared emotional experience they have with others.

Now, this brief and anecdotal orientation to the two most common worshipers in contemporary North American Christianity is useful background for getting at what one can expect to find at your local franchise (church) and may help some of you understand your religious experience in a way you have not thought of it before. Going back to Chuck Smith, the head of the Calvary Chapel franchise and pioneer churchapreneur, non-denominational churches have been carefully crafted to optimize sales volume and enhance customer satisfaction. Given that aim, it is understandable that these churches are characterized by these three marks:
  • First, churchapreneur churches are personality driven. That is no surprise given the profile of the churchapreneur. He is usually a "type A" personality, gregarious, and highly verbal. This choice to make the churchapreneur church personality driven kills two birds with one stone. On the one hand it helps the person with a Roman Catholic past identify with their new found church. Remember, their past worship experience revolved around the action of the priest up front, who was busy mumbling out the liturgy of the Mass. Whether they understood it all or not, or were even that captivated by it, they still tended to identify their religious experience with the guy up front. So churchapreneurs tapped into that, only with a twist. Instead of mumbling out the liturgy of the Mass, they have replaced the priest with a multitasking pastor who is all at once a cheerleader, coach, and practicing stand-up comedian. On the other hand, the guy with the big presence up front is just good for business. He is the face of the company. Whatever people’s felt needs are, he has anticipated them and knows just how to pitch his product so as to touch a heart in order to close a sale. If tears are needed, he can cry. If laughter is what you like, he can joke. If being vulnerable is what you are after, he can be transparent like nobody’s business. This really “connects” with people, helps them feel like they have finally found that church where people understand them. And hey, after all, Paul said to be all things to all men, right? They are just trying be like Paul. The key to bringing in customers from both target areas of Roman Catholicicm and broad evangelicalism is a big personality up front, so that is exactly what you will find.
  • Second, you will find a church that does not believe in much. They don’t subscribe to any creeds or confessions, and if you bring that up to any body you will be quickly informed that that kind of thing is just traditionalism. If pressed to give any answers about doctrinal basics, you will find that most of these churches have doctrinal statements buried somewhere. But this lack of doctrinal precision is considered a virtue in these churches; after all, Jesus and the apostles did not recite the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed, besides that, if you get too specific in your doctrine, customers are likely to get offended. In that event, “no creed but Christ” works quite well. This of course, is a long way away from historic Christianity as practiced in any major form of its expression, whether that be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. That is kind of the point though. Churchapreneur churches are intentionally designed not to be churchly; they are businesses which need to keep expanding customer bases, and doctrinal faithfulness or expressing unity with the historic Christian churches through confessing the creeds of old is irrelevant to their mission.
  • Third, you will find that these churches are radically independent. This follows from their refusal to confess the faith as Protestants have historically, and beyond that, the great ecumenical creeds of the Christian church. Independence primarily flows from the ethos of the churchapreneur concept. Just review for a moment: Churchapreneurs are businessmen who have been given a divine business plan from God called their “vision.” These “visions” are the result of some conversation with God, an unverified prophecy, dream, or some mystical experience. Such experiences are so highly personal and subjective that its hard to reproduce churches in other places after a similar fashion and to get other pastors to buy into your particular franchise and business plan. Further, the kind of guys who are attracted to churchapreneurship are too independent/arrogant to allow themselves to be cast in someone else’s mold. Calvary Chapel is a notable exception, but I firmly believe the facade of this “movement” will shatter into a thousand pieces as soon as papa Chuck fades off the scene.

So there are the three leading marks of a churchapreneur church: personality driven, non-confessional, and independent. Now, contrast these three marks with the marks of the true church as outlined in Belgic Confession article 29: the preaching of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and Christian discipline. My challenge to you, if you are in a churchapreneur church, is to think about the three marks of your church. Perhaps you have not thought in this way before. Maybe you just did not know better, or maybe you were a Roman Catholic by background and you were told that formalism and institutionalism was the problem with the Catholics and what you really needed was a simple Jesus and heart-warming worship. Well, that is not true, what you need for your spiritual well-being is a true church, which confesses and proclaims the Biblical Christ, and not a commercial enterprise. Compare the marks of your current church over against the marks of a true church as outlined in the Belgic Confession and see for yourself, from the word of God, which one is Biblical.

More churchapreneur websites:




true churches:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Churchapreneurs: a profile

As we introduced this series on churchapreneurs, we began with an overview, defining our terms and introducing the concept. So if you are just tuning in to the series, you can go back to the first post and get a better handle on what I am attacking here. However, before we move forward it will be helpful to remind ourselves what a churchapreneur is and what he is up to. A churchapreneur is a pastor of a Christian church who views his church as a product to be marketed and sold to customers. His business plan is a divinely given vision which marks out his market niche, which in turn, provides a strategy and set of tactics to reach potential customers. Of course, all this finds anecdotal confirmation in the poster that hangs outside of Bill Hybels office which says, "What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2007/10/willow_creek_re.html

With that background in view, let's turn to the profile of the churchapreneur.

The key component of the churchapreneur, which enables him to pull the whole gig off, is talent. Make no mistake about it, churchapreneurs are talented. They have charisma, are usually handsome, possess above average speaking abilities, have excellent interpersonal skills and a keen ability to understand what drives people. Basically, they are the kind of guys you would find working at your local car lot. Like good salesmen, they know how to push people's buttons in order to "close" the deal. Now, I don't mean to disrespect car salesmen, that is an honorable profession, and I have no complaint with them. After all, they are just trying to put bread on the table, like any one else. The problem I have is with the church being treated like a new car and these salesmen (pastors) plying their trade in the church as they would at the local car lot.

Of course, to some, this sounds cynical and perhaps overly harsh. I can only wish however, that this were simply an unfounded, harsh caricature, the reality is, it rings all too true. A case in point is "the cool church" in Tuscon, Arizona. http://www.thecoolchurch.com/indexCool.htm The home page for this church prominently displays a picture of the head pastor, David McAllister. He is blond, he is buff, he is cool, and he is the lead salesmen at the church. Click on the links to the four satellite churches, which be broadcasts his sermons to at their various meeting times, and you will again see his picture and the pictures of the other salesmen of these satellites.

It is clear from spending a few moments on the web site that his business plan (divinely given vision) instructed him to hitch "hip" to Jesus, because as you attempt to search out what this church is about, you quickly find that its about being "cool"(no Sherlock Homes here, its in the title). The current web site, which is still under construction, contains numerous references to "cool," but the old site was even more fixed on hip. For instance, it actually had the following question posted on it, "“Why the cool church?" and then listed these reasons among several others: 1) we think God is “way cool”. Because God is so often poorly represented by religious groups, He can seem otherwise – but that, and 2) God's principles that we have in the Bible are cool.

Now, you say, OK, that is way over the top, but surely that must be an isolated example of a fringe group that no one pays any attention to and which cannot be representative of broader evangelicalism. Well, "the cool church" is not a fringe group, it is actually one of the largest and fastest growing churches in North America. Further, this kind of gimmickry is anything but fringe, its mainstream. In order to test this observation simply click on the following websites of a few of the fastest growing churches in America:

Elevation Church http://www.elevationchurch.org/
LifeChurch.tv http://www.lifechurch.tv/
Champions Centre http://www.championscentre.com/

Everywhere you turn in the church world in America you find examples of this crassly materialistic, consumer oriented, lowest common denominator approach to church. Yes, the personalities are different, the market applications vary, but if you look, and not even all that closely, what you find is a common ideology that binds them together: SALES! They are all about building big, flashy, hip businesses through target messaging and cutting edge sales tactics.

To top it all off -- these salesmen leave nothing to chance in wooing their prey to the bait. A recent article published in the NY Times entitled "The Mystery Worshiper" exposed what is a cutting edge tool in the church growth tool kit, mystery worshipers. http://http//online.wsj.com/article/SB122358815744820497.html That is right, highly talented ministry consultants, many of whom are former pastors, who are paid to lie about themselves and pretend they are sincere first time visitors to a church, who in turn evaluate their worship experience and then submit it to the consulting agency so the information can be relayed back to the church which retained them. If that is not a business model of ministry, I don't know what is. Churchapreneurs, if they are nothing else, are savvy businessmen who have a single minded focus: growing the business. They will do whatever is necessary to increase sales volume, even if it takes professional liars (mystery worshipers) to help them craft a better sales pitch in order to keep on closing deals.

What is a churchapreneur? A churchapreneur is a pastor of a local church who treats his church as a commodity to be sold to customers. How can you spot a churchapreneur? Well, he looks like the sales staff at your local car lot, he has charisma, above average speaking abilities, excellent interpersonal skills, and he can't wait to close the next deal.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Churchapreneurs: an overview

In this article, I want to introduce a series, that I have been thinking about posting for a while, entitled, "churchapreneurs." I have googled many times and have not yet come up with a similar set of articles posted by anyone bearing this name. What I have come across is an article on a "Churchpreneur" program sponsored by a pastor in the Bay Area in California, which prepares Christians to go out into the culture and start small businesses that are Christian in nature. http://www.prleap.com/pr/21991/ With that disclaimer, I am going to jump in feet first.

So, what do I mean by a "churchapreneur?" Let's begin with a definition: a churchapreneur is a minister of a Christian church who views his church as a product to be marketed and sold as if it were a commodity. His church is a business, and he is the CEO. As a good businessman, he knows he needs a thriving customer base in order to grow his business, err church, so he can build a building with a more pleasing aesthetic appearance, have a better, "beefed up" sound system, and offer more products (think programs which target felt needs), which in turn attracts more customers. The "churchapreneur" then, creatively and aggressively markets his church and what it has to offer to "customers" who have various felt needs ranging from marriage problems, to parenting help, to socializing, to weight loss. Since preaching and teaching the unadorned, unvarnished truth of scripture is not the reason why his church exists, then he doesn't concern himself with accurate interpretation of scripture or with getting the message right, he only pastes scripture and pious slogans on the products (programs) he offers and sprinkles his weekly promotional pitch with dashes of uninterpeted scripture for the sake of appearances and to provide a mild and temporary spiritual satisfaction to the customers.

The other piece of the "churchapreneur" puzzle is vision. Every "churchapreneur" worth his salt has a vision from God, who told him to start the specific "ministry" he is now engaged in. Vision is key to the "churchapreneur", as the success of the business, which can be measured in terms of the number of people, size of the building, and community reach, is directly proportional to his obedience to the God-given vision he has received. Run down the list of any big-time "churchapreneur" today in America and you will find that its this divinely given vision which is at the foundation of their ministry success. Why is the vision so essential to their business success? Simple, the vision gives the "churchapreneur" the particular market niche he must target. For Chuck Smith, it was Hippies. For Rick Warren, it was "Saddleback Sam." For Joel Osteen, it was people who hungered for the message of "hope and change." For the "guy church movement" its disgruntled white men. But the vision is not just important because it defines the market niche, its important also, because it points to the strategy for reaching that target group as well. Hence, we have the buzz words of the evangelical world today such as, "missional," "emerging," "contemporary worship," and so on, which are the catnip used to attract the target audience. Therein lies the genius of the "churchapreneur." He not only sees the market niche he has been given the vision to pursue, he also has the business savvy to come up with the proper strategies and tactics to reach them. Genius is not mere vision, its application, because that's the engine of success!

So just to recap, a churchapreneur is a pastor of a church who treats his church as if it were a business that has products to sell to consumers who have felt needs. He is guided in his business plan by a divine vision which discloses both the target audience and means for reaching them. If you think this is an all too cynical assessment of contemporary North American churchmen, then I close by pointing you to a poster hanging just outside Bill Hybel's church office, who in case you were unaware of it, is the guru who stands atop the pyramid of evangelical churchapreneurs for the last 35 years in America, which says:

“What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2007/10/willow_creek_re.html


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Adultery, voles, and allele 334

I warned you just a couple of months back, in an article entitled “Addicts waiting to happen,” that scientists would one day find genetic explanations for a range of deviant behaviors. Unfortunately, about as soon as I said that, tongue firmly planted in cheek, my comments were vindicated. A recent study published by the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm, Sweden, suggested that gene allele 334 “regulates the activity of a hormone in the brain that can affect a man’s attitudes toward fidelity and monogamy." http://www.wnbc.com/news/17378987/detail.html

Apparently, men with two copies of the allele were twice as likely to cheat as a man without the allele, on account of the fact that it seems to have something to do with the regulation of hormones in the brain that affect attitudes about sex and feelings toward one’s spouse. Another interesting detail from this study is that the presence of this particular gene in a mouse-like varmint called a "vole" was an indicator of whether the vole was a "cheatin kind." In other words, animal behavior is triumphantly appealed to in order to confirm this study on marital fidelity among humans.

Okay, lots to digest here obviously. First, doesn't anyone think that a double dose of allele 334 in men is an incredibly insufficient explanation of why men cheat? There are so many factors which contribute to the decision to "cheat," not the least of which, is a desensitized conscience, that it seems incredibly unscientific to assign its cause to the presence of a mutated gene. This is a too facile explanation. Second, comparing the mating activities of varmints to the sexual immorality of human beings is a total stretch. It is very hard to conceive of how the mating patterns of voles, which as far as I know don't have a conscience, don't have a signed marriage contract, and don't have a complex sociological element to their existence which puts negative pressure on them for cheating, bears any reasonable similarity to infidelity perpetrated against a marriage partner. Third, I was completely amazed by the double standard that some so-called marriage and family experts maintained in view of this study. Dr. Phil is a case in point. In the midst of his interview with the Today show, on this very topic he said, "genetics are not a free pass for inappropriate behavior."http://www.wnbc.com/news/17381424/detail.html Now, don't get me wrong, I fully agree with his point, but it is a double standard. When people get drunk once, they call them wreckless, but when they get drunk every day, they are called alcoholics, and then they are defended and coddled because they are victims with a "disease" owing to a genetic deficiency. When homosexual's commit sexually immoral acts, that is not called deviant behavior, that is simply defended as acting according the genetic hand they have been dealt. But, when it comes to sexual immorality among married couples, well, genes are no excuse. I agree, genes are no excuse! However, this is also an inexcusable double standard. It is glaringly inconsistent on one hand to use genes as an excuse for behavior if the activity in question is politically correct, and then, on the other hand to argue that genes are no excuse for adultery.

I have a better explanation for why some men and women just can't keep it in their pants, and it is not about what is in their genes, it is about what is in their heart. Jesus said, "out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries....." (Mark 7:24). What the Pharisees of Jesus' day explained away according to external factors in the name of their religion, the modern secular Pharisees explain away according to genetic factors in the name of their religion, science. The problem with both is that they miss the mark because they both willfully refuse the real explanation for sin, a dark heart. Interesting, isn't it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Death Magnetic

Ok, so Friday morning I rushed out to my local Borders a 8:58 a.m. so as to be there right when the doors opened so I could rush in and buy my copy of Metallica's long-awaited new release. I got to be honest with you, I ripped that plastic off the cd cover and slammed it into my stereo with just a pid of trepedation. After all, St. Anger was hardly a great effort, so it was only natural to wonder if age would show it had stifled Metallica's creativity and stolen their love of shredding heavy guitar riffs and robust vocals.

Thankfully, I have to say, I was absolutely thrilled with what I heard. I played that album 3 times through in a row, it was awesome. I felt as if I had been transported back in time to 1984. Somehow they recaptured the magic of that heavy speed metal-n-thrash sound of the Ride the Lightning era. This album in its sound and overall tone is a throwback. I can't say its better than old Metallica, but it certainly has that old school feel to it, and I love it! The only criticism I have of Death Magnetic is that it can, at times, lapse for mere moments back into a St. Anger sound, but it doesn't detract too badly from the overall impact.

All I can say is, GO BUY IT! For just 14.99 this classic is a steal.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rape on the rise among female soldiers

Imagine this --- who could have ever seen this coming: put a 1,000 horny guys wearing BDU’s in a desert, isolate them from wives and girlfriends, and then throw 5-10 women in their midst; what could possibly go wrong in that situation?http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=5760295&page=1

Now, to be clear, I don’t condone rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment under any circumstances. I categorically denounce these things, finding them perverse and evil. But, I want to point out that this is exactly what you are going to get when you put men and women together in combat, in very close quarters, in isolation from wives and girlfriends for months at a time. A situation like that is going to explode just as surely as throwing gasoline on a fire will stoke flames. As evil as this is, you are not going to change it through sensitivity training or bureaucratic red tape; this kind of behavior is just the nature of the beast in a fallen world. I hope that these findings force the feminists, egalitarians, and pc policy wonks to stop using the US military as a laboratory for their social experiments. Our military is the best in the world at what it does: developing a battle plan and executing it with precision, and that is exactly what you want out of an armed force. Since that is what a military is for, and not for creating an egalitarian social utopia staffed with social workers, bureaucrats, and nannies running around putting soldiers on “time outs” and taking their snack time from them if they act up, this is a wake-up call to mission discipline and to move the women out of the combat areas entirely. Keep them in the hospitals, rear units, and support roles far away from the men. If the military doesn’t wake up and segregate the troops its going to continue to have this mess on its hands, and end up spending its precious time on investigations and prosecutions, and its going to spend its critical resources on shrinks to help these poor women deal with the violence perpetrated on them. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned these equal opportunity folks are, because in spite of their well-meant intentions, they are creating a context for violence to be perpetrated on the very people they are supposedly helping; and for that, they are culpable. Even the apparent "mercies" of a fool are cruel.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

1 out of 3 aint bad

All I have to say is, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuuuuuuuck. How could he let this happen? On the brink of getting a title shot, he gets cold-cocked, and probably just closed the door on a title shot. The "Ice Man" now has 3 losses in the last year-and-a-half, and it just looks like his opponents have his number. In between the 1st and 2nd round, Greg Jackson, Rashad Evans' coach asked Rashad if he had Chuck's timing and he said, "yes." What that meant is exactly what you saw when Chuck hit the canvas. Rashad watched that looping punch come around and timed his punch right to Chuck's jaw at exactly the right moment and it was lights out for Chuck. In other words, Chuck's movements have become so predictable that all his opponents are watching his old fights, finding the holes in his game, and are exploiting them in the Octagon. At this point, Chuck has a few options: one, move up to heavyweight where he can face a whole new group of fighters, two, change his fight strategy, or three, retire. I think the latter probably wont happen just yet, but either of the first are most likely.

As for the other fights, Matt Hamill drove me nuts. He is not a striker, he is a world class wrestler; so what did he do against Rich Franklin? He boxed, and he lost. Look, when you are better than your opponent at one phase of your game, you do everything you can to get your opponent to fight your strength. Hamill totally neglected to do that until the 3rd round when his leg had been so battered from kicks by Franklin that he couldn't push off his leg and shoot with any speed, and Franklin easily blocked his takedowns. So, memo to all you guys who think you are Ali, when you are actually closer to Dan Gable: fight to your strengths, and if I guy ends up beating you when you fight to your strengths, hats off to your opponent, but at least you can walk away with the satisfaction of knowing you fought your best fight.

Finally, props to Hendo, he fought a great fight. Palhares, is an outstanding submission specialist, and once the rest of his game catches up, and it looks like it has the potentional to, he is going to be a dangerous middleweight fighter. But Hendo did exactly what he had to do, outclass the guy on his feet, stop the takedown, and get up fast when he was taken to the ground. Hendo played the gameplan to a "T" and won. It was a great example of game-planning and Octagon discipline. Sure, it was an ugly fight, but he posted a "W" and his victory made a strong argument for a rematch with Sylva.

After going 1 out of 3, I think I just might hold off on predictions next time, or maybe not, maybe 1 out of 3 aint that bad after all.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

UFC 88: the “Ice Man” v “Sugar Rashad”

I am posting this before fight time in order to go on record to predict Chuck will win by knockout no later than the 2nd round. I know this is an obvious pick, but after watching all the hype coming out of Rashad Evans on the UFC 88 countdown show, I just wanted to go on record with my pick. Yes, Evans has grown as a fighter over the last couple of years. He is a good grappler and has decent hands, but the guy barely handled Michael Bisping who dropped down to 185 because he was too small to make any real headway in the light-heavyweight division. Now, if Evans barely beat Bisping, that either means, Chuck would have a real battle on his hands to take out Bisping, or Evans really isn’t as good as he seems to think he is. Obviously, the truth lies closer to the latter. Maybe in time Evans will find himself among the top tier of the light-heavyweight division, that remains to be seen and wont happen until he has a solid win over a top 5 fighter, which he has not even stepped into the Octagon with to this date. For now though, I would say to Evans, save the hollow sounding hype and stop telling everyone how you are going to have your way with Chuck, and learn from the experience of fighting a top-tier fighter in a high pressure bout, and just keep honing your skills.

As for the rest of the matches, at least the ones I am interested in, I think Matt Hamill will upset Rich Franklin. He has too much ground and pound for Rich who is moving up to 2005 after a few years at middleweight. I pick Dan Henderson over Rousimar Palhares, in what will be the ugliest, grind it out fight of the night. It will be close, but I think Henderson knows he needs a victory over a solid opponent to get back into title contention. Other than that the rest of the fights don’t interest me that much one way or the other.

For now, throw some burgers on the grill, make sure the fridge has plenty of cold brew, and enjoy those fights tonight!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Too good to be 9?

I honestly can believe that this has finally happened, a 9-year-old is so much better than the rest of his piers that he must be banned from baseball. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=3553475 Let’s not pretend that we couldn’t see this coming. You see, it all started with those stupid participation ribbons they started handing out to all the kids on each team even though they did nothing to deserve recognition. I was absolutely stunned to find this out several years ago when I enrolled my own son for baseball. His team won just a few games, only but one or two kids stood out by their play, yet at the end of the season all the parents were hit up for a $20 bill to pay for trophies and prizes. I of course had the temerity to ask, “why?” After all, back in the day, there was one trophy handed out at the end of the season, and that trophy went to the first place team, and the coach was the one who got to keep it. What was funny about that was, no one cared, rather, they all knew that was the way it was supposed to be. Fast forward a few years (okay, many, many more years) and imagine my surprise at having to fork over an extra $20 for participation awards for all the players on a bottom of the league team! What I failed to notice, was that this was the way of the “new generation.” The children of today apparently are all suffering from low self-esteem and they are in need of constant affirmation that they are “special” and deserving of awards for things they never worked hard to earn.

So now you see my point, right? We got here at this point where we are penalizing 9-year-olds because of superiority by making a practice of rewarding mediocrity. It started by telling all the kids they were good even if they were not, telling them they were valuable to the team even if they didn’t spend a moment outside of practice and games working to get better, and affirming their effort whether they played hard or not during the game. Once mediocrity is the norm, excellence will always end up being penalized, because as soon as someone stands out above everyone else, then he will be made to be a villain because he is damaging the self-esteem of all the other kids.

This unfortunate story ought to be a national wake-up call. We are rearing a generation of cry-babies and underachievers who are bloated with self-esteem while mediocre in performance. Don’t tell me that this mentality won’t spill out into other areas of life either, because it will. We are currently undergoing a cultural revolution in the work place and academy due to the effects of this “awards for all participants” mentality that has been practiced now for the last 15—20 years in this country. So, I for one am hopeful that this embarrassing national story over penalizing an overachiever will finally shame us into our senses and cause us to realize that the only way we will get better as a nation is if we only reward excellence in achievement and effort in order to motivate people to move out of mediocrity.

I say, let little Jericho play. So what if he strikes out every 9-year-old in his league. Maybe that will cause the rest of those kids to try harder so they can hit him next year when they are 10. In the mean time, as they make that long lonely walk from home plate to the dugout with a bat on their shoulder after striking out, they will learn an important lesson in life, that hard work and sharpened skill acquired through drilling the mechanics of a good swing, will not only help them get that bat on the ball, but will also be a lesson on how to get ahead in life.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bigfoot Proves Elusive Once Again

I have to say this was a real disappointment for me. My hopes were soaring high on August 15 with the press conference held at the Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto, California, thinking this finally might be “it.”http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=5583488&page=1 But no, hopes were dashed once again by two pranksters claiming to have finally captured irrefutable evidence of Bigfoot, when the “evidence” contained in a giant freezer turned out to be just a rubber gorilla suit. Now, I must admit that part of me thought it would be awesome if a bona fide Bigfoot had finally been discovered, though honestly, part of me was a little disappointed because the lack of a verifiable Bigfoot sighting kept us all in suspense and made everything more exciting, and if this was really it, then it might peel a bit of the luster off the Bigfoot mystique. I can personally attest to the fact, having grown up in the hill country of Northern California, that the legends are large and the tales are colorful about the supposed sights and sounds of Bigfoot. Hunters and campers alike tell of strange sounds in the night, unexplainably large footprints in the soft moist dirt, and large clumps of reddish-brown hair stuck on trees in the forest. If you drive through some of the more remote areas of No-Cal you will find that the legend lives on in road side stands and small ma and pop shops as a whole Bigfoot cottage industry has grown up around the legend and people are shamelessly profiting off this supposedly fury and wily creature. For now though, the legend is safe, the suspense is in tact, and Bigfoot is still on the loose. So all you hunters, hikers, and campers, a word to the wise, keep your eyes peeled and your digital cameras handy because you never know, the next time you hit the woods, maybe, just maybe, Bigfoot will finally slip up and you will come home with the proof that everyone has been waiting for. Good luck!

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Guy church": how evangelicals still dont get it

About a year ago we launched calvinontap.blogspot.com with the express intention of trying to have conversations with men which might in turn lead them to be open to have further conversations about Jesus. Basically the articles here range from current events, to Ultimate Fighting, to some basic philosophical issues, all cast in the form of a conversation you might have with another guy on a bar stool over a cold one. So, if you joined the conversation when this all started you are aware of the aim of this site, and if you are just tuning in, then go back and check out those key articles and get caught up to speed.

Naturally, given that our focus here is to engage other men in conversation that will end up having a spiritual focus, we are happy to hear that others are doing the same thing. After all, it is no secret that attendance of men at church is on the decline, at least in North America. On any given Sunday, over 60% of the people in the pews are women, about 90% of males who grow up in church leave it by the time they are 19 years old, and only roughly 30% of American men attend church on a regular basis. With those numbers in mind, of course we laud attempts of the local church to reach out to men. Given that build up, you might be surprised, that I almost pulled the tiny little hairs out of my neatly shaved head as I read the recent article in USA Today by Cathy Lynn Grossman entitled, “Guys are few in the pews: churches change to attract men.” http://http//www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-07-23-males-church_N.htm

In the following paragraphs I want to critique what I read and offer an alternative.

Now, to be fair, perhaps Miss Grossman is not an "initiated evangelical" and is simply reporting what she sees in the new evangelical trend of “guy friendly” churches, and, being uninitiated, is unable to perceive the deeper philosophical moorings of these churches. So as you read this critique you might keep that thought in mind. However, what she does report leaves you shaking your head once again, saying to yourself, “stupid evangelicals!” Honestly, how many gimmicks are these people going to try before they realize that gimmicks don’t work, and in fact, that gimmicks hurt the faith and build up even more obstacles for us to beat down before we can have a decent conversation with unbelievers?

Grossman appeals to the 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas, as a model for this new trend of “guy church” with a hearty masculine vibe. Initially, she focuses on the décor of the church, which of course is a significant part of their strategy for reaching men according to the pastor Ross Sawyer who says, “No pastels. No flowers. No sweet music. The tone is intentionally guy church.” So naturally since guys don’t like those things the floor is concrete, the walls are hunter green, and the ceiling is made of rough timber. Surely, most men don’t like pastels, flowers, and lame music, but is the problem with reaching men merely about cosmetics? The heavy focus on the cosmetic aspect already shows how superficial the approach is going to be.

Next, we are told that the new model “guy church” has a certain ethos. David Murrow, a leading “guy church” guru, explains in the advice he gives to pastors seeking to reach men what really captivates a pagan guy: infuse adventure, challenge, boldness, competition, hands-on communication, ferocity and fun" into congregational life. If you are wondering what that looks like, well, just listen to a report from a 2002 GodMen ministry event which includes the following shockingly foolish set of events: videos of karate fights, car chases and a song with lyrics urging, "No more nice guy, timid and ashamed … Grab a sword, don't be scared — be a man, grow a pair!" (I told you that you would be shaking your head and saying “stupid evangelicals!”) So, "action packed" is the key ethos needed to reach men.

Lastly, Grossman notes that “guy church” is intentionally relational. Now, here, I believe they are getting one component right. In order to reach guys, you have to spend some time hanging out and getting to know them. But once again, as you might already be able to predict, these evangelicals mess this up to. Churches seeking men in the Sun Belt region of America are choosing to reach men through a particular kind of relational event called a “Beast Feast.” Yes, a “Beast Feast.” Apparently, men of the church invite non-Christian men they know to come eat some wild meat that they have harvested while out hunting in the woods. Stop and think about it, this could almost be a good idea if it was in some guys back yard, they threw out the title “Beast Feast,” and they mixed in some cigars and good beer. But no, its at the church banquet hall, and its named “Beast Feast,” and you can bet there are no beers and cigars. Relationships are a great way to start reaching out to men, but stupid evangelical potlucks with ridiculous names are not.

Okay, anyone can be long on criticism, but being long on solutions is better. So, what would I propose? One, strip away every stupid evangelical sounding thing from your approach. The North American species of pagan male can smell a gimmick a mile away, and a stupid evangelical gimmick from 10 miles away. So, don’t do dumb, superficial things. That is my ethos rule. Two, build relationships with men the old fashioned way: at a back yard barbeque, on a local bar stool, or at the gym. That is where you are going to find men hanging out and probably willing, over time, to let you talk to them about “big picture” ideas. Here is where I like J.I. Packer's advice when he says (I am paraphrasing here from Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God), “you have to earn the right to present Christ to men by building a relationship of trust first.” Three, when you finally get men to come to church, just do church! You know for all the hype about how they are doing “guy church” with their guy friendly décor, these churches go back to doing the same lame things that drove men away in the first place: skits, videos, music, creative worship (and oh yeah, don’t forget the guy friendly name change of Vacation Bible School to “Bible Extreme”). Basically what Grossman describes is that churches have changed the tone, repainted the walls, torn up the carpet, and rearranged the furniture, but have not touched the substance.

Here is what we need to do to reach men once they get to church: stop being lame, and just do what the Bible says when you meet for worship. Make the preached word and the administration of the sacrament central. Every week reinforce the majesty and holiness of God by reading the law and corporately confessing sin. Tell men that their relationship with Jesus is not based on “feeling good” or even “cool” at church, nor is it based on how many “guy friendly” small group meetings they go to (in fact, be sure to systematically eliminate all small groups from your church!), but rather, it is based upon worshiping once a week with the whole church and partaking of Christ and his grace in the preached word and sacrament. Tell them there are no gimmicks, no extra works to perform, no Vacation Bible School (or Bible Extreme for the ones who have unfortunately been exposed to hip "guy churches") to be guilted into teaching, no church softball teams to be a part of in order to be a good Christian. Just tell the men that Christ is their justification, and that their relationship with him is strengthened every week at 10 a.m. on Sunday when God meets with His church and gives them the grace of Christ in the word and sacrament. That’s “guy church” that will make a difference, and the good news is, it wont just make a difference for guys, it will make a difference for everyone who comes and is a part of it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Housework and Sex: Gettin' You Some More or Role Reversal?

I know most of you guys think that you would do anything to get more sex. If you think about it every 8-10 seconds, then it stands to reason that you probably are not opposed to doing just about anything (lawfully of course) that it takes to get more of it. I wonder if there aren’t some prices that are too high to pay though. As I was reading this article on sex and housework, I began to think that just might be the case. As I walk you through this I want you to be the judge.

In her article entitled, Housework and sex: What's the connection?, Maureen Salamon records these words from a working mom:

"I am very turned on when he's doing housework," says the 36-year-old Camden, Delaware resident, a middle school teacher. "If there's a sink full of dirty dishes, he knows I'm going to take care of that before I want to get intimate. If he wasn't helping with the housework, I would not find that very attractive." http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/personal/06/17/housework.relationships/

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that working mothers have a lot of pressures on them between work, mothering, driving the little tikes to their t-ball games, and finding a moment to squeeze in some personal time. Of course, given that, I believe any reasonable husband is going to figure out how to lighten the load for his wife out of love and gratitude. But, I cant help but sense there is something more here in this article when this working mom says she wouldn’t find it “very attractive” if her husband wasn’t doing some of the housework. Is this sound practical advice, or is this a ruse? Well, as you read the rest of the article, it doesn’t take long to find the real agenda: husbands doing more house work is not about getting more sex, its about giving women a sense of control over the man. In other words, it is about role reversal.

There are all kinds of anecdotes I could bring in from this story to prove my point, such as men being guilted into doing 7 hours of housework a week more than their 1976 counterparts, the fact that all but 1 of the “marriage experts” quoted in the story are women, and the fact that the mere presence of a “man” in the house creates 7 extra hours of work in the house called “emotional labor” consisting in, “tasks like writing holiday cards, scheduling doctor appointments and planning family gatherings” which usually falls to the woman. That last example is a real kicker for me; how can the mere presence of a man create 7 extra hours of work such as writing out holiday cards and setting doctor appointments? Are we supposed to believe that holiday cards would not have been sent out if men weren’t in the home? Or, would there be no doctor appointments to schedule if a man wasn’t hanging around the house and sawing his fingers off while cutting down an old tree in the back yard? This is ridiculous, and if that kind of work takes you 7 hours a week, you have got to be totally inefficient.

Anyway, the real clincher for me, that this story is not actually an article for men informing them how to get more sex from their wife by pulling out a bottle of windex and a squeegy and wiping the windows clean, is the story about Jennifer Armiger. Sister Jennifer is 33 years old and a full time Ph.D student who is disgruntled with her husband. Why is Jen so upset with her husband you ask? Is he out “trolling for chicks” while she is holding down 2 jobs and trying to get a degree? Is it because he is a deadbeat and wont work? Is he abusive and addicted to drugs, alcohol, or porn, you ask? The answer to those questions is no, no, and no. Our friend Jennifer is upset because she wants to work out with her husband but cant because he is working 15 hour days running a trucking company so she can stay at home with their 4 year old son and finish off her degree (oh yeah, and cook the lazy slob of a husband a meal for dinner and then clean up afterwords). By the way, she is also mad because he “walks right past a sink full of dishes.” To show her disgust with this kind of chauvanistic behavior, she switched to paper plates (that will show the ingrate!). Jennifer thinks this arrangement they have (him working like a dog to provide for his wife and family while she goes to school and takes care of their child) is sexist, and she would like it all to change. What she wants instead, is a more “egalitarian relationship” when she finishes her degree and gets a job teaching.

Have you heard enough yet? This article is not about helping you “get some,” its about redefining marriage roles, either in the direction of putting the woman in charge or putting the man and wife on an egalitarian footing, and leaving you high and dry (if you know what I mean). This is about telling the man he must hand his “jewels” over to the wife and she gets to store them away in her purse and only “loan” them back when its convenient for her. Guys, go read the article for yourself and see whether I have misrepresented it. As for me, I think this kind of a marital relationship is a recipe for disaster. Go ahead and reverse roles with your wife if it suits you, but I am warning you, if you do, extra sex with your wife is not in the future, but you can look forward to more nagging and a pair of dish pan hands.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Part Athenian, Part Visigoth

In a commencement address never delivered, Dr. Neil Postman once argued that there were two contrasting cultural paradigms, one of which inspires and produces the culture of the highest common denominator and the other of which constantly threatens to corrode our collective sensitivities and produces the culture of the lowest common denominator. http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/2005/06/athenians-and-visigothsneil-postmans-graduation-speech.html The first culture is Athens, and the second is that of the Visigoths. Athens, he argues, was characterized by literacy, democracy, philosophy, art and the finest culture, while the Visigoths were characterized by brutality, simplicity, crudeness of speech and artistry, and a bent toward destruction. These two contrasting cultures not only represent opposite values and traditions, they also represent the two poles of culture either of which subsequent societies align with. Dr. Postman argues that the Athenian culture is the superior culture, indeed, even the model culture, while the Visigoth culture is the default culture which we are born to emulate and perpetuate apart from an intentional effort to pursue truth, beauty, and civility. While it is undoubtedly true that Athens represents a cultural high water mark, and possesses an enduring legacy, I cannot agree with Dr. Postman that this is the culture we ought to emulate. What I will argue for is a culture that is something in between, something that is part Athenian, part Visigoth. Let me explain.

Attempting to defend his proposition, that Athenian culture is superior and that we ought therefore to emulate it, Postman points to Athenian language and art, along with their byproducts as illustrations of cultural excellence. Clearly, if we were to make our evaluation of these two societies purely on the basis of their cultural byproducts, and then based on that evaluation establish which culture ought to be emulated, then Athens would win hands down. The Athenians left for our admiration the Parthenon, the poetry of Sappho and Pindar, the tragedies of Euriopides and Sophocles, the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle, not to mention political democracy and the Olympics, while the Visigoths left behind “no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics.”

However, though the Athenian accomplishments are illustrations of the enduring quality which characterized much of Athenian culture, they only capture one side of the cultural spectrum. Sure, on the one hand, there is something to be said for art that arranges a collage of images, colors, and shapes in symmetrical order and realistic proportion. But, on the other hand, there are numerous examples of non-representational art of the sort of Visigoth mold that provokes real thought and deep emotion simply because it doesn’t reproduce a depiction of reality that borders on the Rockwellesque and surreal. Instead, it highlights and accentuates the twisted and uneven grooves and texture of the world we actually live in. To say that one is “better” than the other and ought to be cherished above the other and modeled, while the other should not be, is a sort of snotty elitism, a bigotry, and amounts to a purely subjective value judgment.

To follow Postman’s argument out further, let’s think about Athenian rhetoric. Yes, the prose is polished, elegant, even stately, and the argument is often well developed. However, to insist that this is the only kind of communication that is admirable or even effective is a stretch. Think of the power and insight generated by simple non-verbal cues which speak volumes without words and sentences. Beyond the non-verbal, think of the brilliant, non-Athenian style of Hemingway who communicated with an economy of words. Or, consider, the vigorous oratory of Churchill which lacked the polish and grand style of the Golden Orators of ancient Athens. The only point I am trying to make here is that the “simple” rhetorical model of the Visigoth doesn’t always indicate lack of nuance, depth, or insight as Postman seems to suggest. The clear, simple, yet aggressive style of the Visigoth can be just as effective and meaningful as the Athenian style.

Beyond the comparison of cultural byproducts, I believe there is an important argument to be made for Visigoth culture with its commitment to the martial way. The Visigoths were warriors, horsemen, and strategists. These technical skills were part of a broader martial ethos that included the qualities of self-discipline, valor, comradery, and persistence. This kind of martial ethos is essential for a society if it is to enjoy the opportunity to engage in culture. No society will long enjoy the luxury to ponder, reflect, communicate, compose, sculpt, or paint without the presence of a warrior class and a martial spirit to protect from external marauders or to restrain the internal threats posed by the inherent darkness in citizens, which constantly threatens to erupt in chaos and plunge the polis into disorder. Peer pressure is certainly not enough to restrain such inherent corruption, neither is the power of a good example; tough-minded, exacting brute force is. A well-founded society must have an enforcer, there has to be somebody who everyone fears enough to bridle their darker instincts and who keeps opportunistic outsiders at bay out of fear of severe bodily risk or even death.

But the positive aspects of the Visigoth ethos consists in more than just providing physical security it impacts other areas of society as well, namely, economic development. In contrast to the Greeks, who were more fascinated with the contemplative, the Visigoths were pragmatic, they were about utility. Their concern was how to use knowledge and skill for gain, as Postman notes, “To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.” In other words, the Visigoth contribution to society is the development of a mindset that seeks to turn ideas into applications that have a useful purpose and economic benefit. That stands in contrast to the Athenians who seemed to think of themselves as above that; after all, they had slaves do their work anyway, so they didn’t really seem to care as much about efficiency of production or utility. The only reason why I can see that someone would count that as a negative, is because they are so culturally idealistic and Utopian that they are social egalitarians and don’t want a society where there are class differences based upon skill and individual genius. But, if you have a free market society, ingenuity is the genius that paves the pathway out of poverty into the track of upward social and economic mobility. The Visigoth ethos contributes toward a society of economic prosperity precisely because it cultivates an attitude which is both pragmatic and opportunistic, contemplative and utilitarian.

So, I argue, the best culture is a combination of cultures, one which is part Athenian and part Visigoth, a culture which balances the pursuit of the aesthetics of the Athenians with the cultivation of the martial ethos of the Visigoths. This culture is embodied first of all at the individual level, and then valued and developed at the community level. An individual who lacks martial discipline will either not enjoy the requisite personal qualities to develop their latent mental and aesthetic abilities to their fullest potential or will experience the frustration of having their self-expression being constantly interrupted or worse yet destroyed by thugs and savages. On the other hand the individual who lacks mental and aesthetic abilities yet cultivates martial skill in unequal proportion, will either become so one dimensional that they will become grotesque and eventually self-loathing, or will plunge the culture around them into a state of chaos and darkness in a quest for illegitimate domination. By striking a balance between these contrasting personal qualities the individual will be given the freedom to think and engage in articulate self-expression. When a culture consists of individuals with the proportional balance of Athenian and Visigoth it will possess both mental and aesthetic discipline as well as physical security and internal order. In other words it will be both smart and tough, powerful and articulate, ordered and imaginative. That is what I mean by part Athenian, part Visigoth, and I believe that is the kind of culture that we ought to attempt to emulate.

Friday, July 11, 2008

We are all just addicts waiting to happen

It seems like anywhere you turn today, you can find a scientific explanation for almost any behavior, deviant or "normal." If you drink too much you are an alcoholic, if you smoke too much you are a nicotine addict, if you are overly sexually active, you are a sex-aholic. The best thing about all these labels is that they come with scientific (genetic) explanations. Whatever your addiction, clearly, it cant be a lack of self-control it can only be that you are genetically predisposed to that particular addictive pattern of behavior. Your behavior has everything to do with the cards you were dealt. You got a bad hand and now you will just have to live with it. Maybe a little therapy and some medication can help minimize its effects, but at the end of the day, your "addiction" will always be there lurking in the shadows to overtake you. You will never beat it, rather, you are always going to be a helpless victim of your genes, and the best you can ever say is that you are "recovering."

Well, now add one more group of helpless victims to the long list of addicts. In a recent article posted in the Telegraph, scientists report that they have found a new clinical disorder called "gadget addiction." This terrible addiction is explained as follows:

They suffer four symptoms: They forget to eat and sleep; they need more advanced technology or more hours online as they develop 'resistance' to the pleasure given by their current system; if they are deprived of their computer, they experience genuine withdrawal symptoms; And in common with other addictions, the victims also begin to have more arguments, to suffer fatigue, to get lower marks in tests and to feel isolated from society. http://Internet addiction is a 'clinical disorder'

Now before you start snickering too loudly at the “gadget addicts” take a moment to consider the debilitating nature of this problem. Dr. Jerald Block explains that some sufferers “were so addicted to the internet that they required medication or even hospital treatment to curb the time they spent on the web.”

He goes on to say that: "The relationship is with the computer. It becomes a significant other to them. They exhaust emotions that they could experience in the real world on the computer through any number of mechanisms: emailing, gaming, porn." Wow, sounds incredibly awful.

Perhaps you recognize yourself somewhere in those four symptoms, and are concerned that you too may be a “gadget addict.” Just wait though, because you may not need to rush out for 12 steps and meds just yet. Research suggests the true “gadget addict” is the species of highly educated, socially awkward men, oh yeah, and also middle aged housewives. If you don’t fit either of those categories, I am sorry to report to you that there is no known explanation for your obsessive internet addiction. But, on the other hand, don’t worry long over this because, after all, if the scientists keep fishing around in the gene pool they are likely to find just the disorder that ails you. In the mean time, just keep on with what you are doing, after all, you are simply doing what you are.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A monument to homosexuality

I found this article intriguing and decided to take a plunge into the dicyhttp://monument%20to%20homosexual%20victims%20of%20nazis%20unveiled/. Having counted the cost of making it appear that I am more sympathetic to the policies of Hitler rather than the plight of persecuted homosexuals, I will forge ahead and give you my take on this Berlin monument: I find it to be an example of PC run amok and an insult to the millions of Jews who were exterminated simply on account of their ethnicity.

Let me make it clear, I categorically reject civil policies which involve prosecuting, persecuting or punishing homosexuals merely for their sexual choices. On the other hand, make no mistake about it, I don't condone homosexual behavior, since, I believe it is an obvious and inexcusable violation of the innate laws of human sexuality stamped both on the mind and body of human beings. The anatomical compatibility of men and women alone, speaks so loud that it should shout down any dissonance an individual might feel about their sexual orientation, and renders them morally inexcusable. Homosexuality, is a matter of choice, not genetics, or culture.

That last thought gets us down to the issue presented by this article. To place a monument in memory to persecuted homosexuals, who freely chose a behavior that put them at risk for persecution by Hitler's regime, opposite a monument to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazi's, who were killed for no other reason than their ethnic identity, is a gross and dangerous confusion of moral categories. Murder is immoral on any account, either by civilians or civil government, and should always be abhorred and punished. However, to place the persecution, and in some cases murder of homosexuals in Nazi Germany, on a continuum with genocide is to minimize the horror of Nazi crimes against humanity. To hate and persecute individuals solely on the basis of ethnicity, something that one has absolutely no control over, ought to be considered a circumstance that severely aggravates the crime of murder. While murdering someone out of hate for their sexual choice is reprehensible, murdering out of racial motives, is an intensification of hate that if unchecked, unleashes a destabilizing and destructive influence upon society which has catastrophic implications.

This point is so obvious, I cannot believe that those who were responsible for the erection of this monument were ignorant of this or even in disagreement with it. That leads me to a final thought on all this, motives. Why would someone attempt to place the persecution of homosexuals and Jews at the hands of Nazi's on a continuum that blurs the significant differences between them? Well, the answer is found in the words of Berlin's homosexual mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who said, "Great efforts will still need to be undertaken before the sight of two men or women kissing here or in Moscow or elsewhere on the planet is accepted by society in general." Apparently they do it because its about two men kissing each other! This monument is a public works stunt designed to legitimize homosexuality. Its not about commemorating the suffering of a past generation, its about advancing a political agenda and using tax payer money to do so. By the way, that is not my reading between the lines, it is, again, the interpretation of Berlin's homosexual mayor who said, "The monument consecrated today is a reminder to us of the horrors of the past and draws our attention to the degree of discrimination that currently exists." See, Wowereit himself says its about drawing attention to the homosexual agenda. Its not about commemoration of unjust suffering, its a monument to homosexuality.

To my mind, this "monument to homosexuals" ought to provoke outrage not only from the Jewish community, but from every ethnic group that has experienced the ruthless persecution of dictators, tyrants, and evil oppressors of any stripe. The equation of the mistreatment of homosexuals, which is a behavior based upon a choice, with the brutal, inhuman treatment and murder of millions of Jews based upon race, is so outrageous words can hardly describe it. Who can miss the not so subtle sub-text of this monument, which is that any intolerane of or lack of acceptance of the homosexual lifestyel is tantamount to the slaughter of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany? All this prompts a question, "When are reasonable people going to stand up and stop the mouths of these obstreperous people who shamelessly exploit the suffering and persecution of others to advance and legitimize their selfish agenda?"

Our generation is so worried about being labelled "insensitive" and "bigoted," we have lost our nerve to take principled stands against almost anything. Such lack of nerve will have serious consequences if it persists. If we cannot distinguish between the consequences due to choices, from the consequences due to genetics and race now, we will have no ability to define and prosecute real injustice in the future. Instead of a monument to homosexuality, we need a combined monument to common sense and courage. We need common sense to define the issues correctly and courage to stand up and speak out against the likes of these tyrannical minority groups who use the cover of political correctness to force the rest of society to accept their perverse lifestyle.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"My god" is in my head

Recently a letter of Albert Einstein's emerged for auctioning in London, dated from 1954. Included in the body of the letter were a couple of statements that caught my attention: belief in God is a childish superstitition and the Bible is nothing more than a collection of childish primitive tales. I suppose that many people might excuse that coming from Einstein, after all, he was a pioneer in the world of modern physics and lived through the world wars of the 20th century, so, the argument often goes, he was just too sophisticated to believe in a god who could both create a world so intricate and complex as well as full of such random evil.

It is difficult to imagine that someone who had the opportunity to examine the book of nature with such care and precision, and who mareveled at the majesty of its design, could so easily miss (or dismiss, whatever the case may be) the fingerprints of the same majestic power, who created the natural world, so indeliby imprinted upon the pages of scripture. According to the sentiments expressed in this letter it seems fair to say that Einstein found that the Bible lacked credibility, after all, it was a holy book filled with odd stories and improbable miracles. But, I would challenge that. I realize that the the notion of miracle is supposedly very difficult for people to believe in who live in the age of toasters and microwaves, but I don't believe that miracle is that difficult for someone to believe in who has the capacity to marvel at the complex nature of the universe and codify the laws of quantum mechanics. Surely, the intricacy of the phenomenal world should have left room for openness to the concept of divine miracles as they are recorded in scripture, no matter how crude the language used to report them. After all, the improbability of naturalism as an adequate means of accounting for the majestic intricacy of the phenomenal world ought to have left him searching or at least open to considering counter explanations for the origins of the complex natural world.

Some years ago Charles Misner, a scientist specializing in the general theory of relativity suggested that Einstein was not really an atheist, he simply couldn't subscribe to any formal religion he had been exposed because they did not adequately capture the majesty of the God who fashioned the world. I think its just the opposite though. It seems to me that he idolized himself instead and worshiped his own majestic mind. Of course God is hard to see and believe in for the one looks into the mirror of nature and finds the reflection of his own marvelous face staring back at him instead of beholding with awe and wonder Him who designed it all.

http://belief/ in God 'childish,' Jews not chosen people: Einstein letter

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Irony of "Jesus Camp"

I finally did it, I sat through Jesus Camp; and, I must say, that it was every bit as disturbing as I thought it would be. The way contemporary evangelicals act and worship in the name of Jesus is utterly appalling, and will cause any thinking Christian to bristle with shame. Here however, I don’t intend to chronicle all the horrifying details of the twisted behavior and worship of these evangelicals exemplified in the movie. Instead, I want to point out the irony of the movie which is this: the producers of the film wanted to show how the “religious right” is indoctrinating young children and preparing them to be zealous foot soldiers in a political and cultural battle, while pretending that the liberals whose point of view they represent, do not do that.

The movie is framed by two separate radio announcements, one at the beginning and one at the end, pertaining to Supreme Court justices. The first refers to the resignation of Sandra Day O’Connor and the second refers to the approval of justice Sam Alito to take her place. These announcements provide the narrative context which teases out the underlying issue of the entire film: the political battle over abortion. Of course, the announcement concerning the justices emerges on account of the pivotal role they play in deciding the legality of abortion. Now, that being the key issue, the role of the political activism of the religious right in seeking to elect a president and other governement officials who appoint Supreme Court justices, emerges as the concern of the producers. The film then, focuses on how the “religious right” is indoctrinating young children to be soldiers in this conflict, and the principal focus becomes the “Kids on Fire Camp” and the ministry of Becky Fischer to illustrate the process.

So that is the big picture, now where is the irony?

The easiest way to get at the irony is to analyze a few of the editorial comments made by the radio host, sprinkled throughout the film, which focus on the “religious right” and their role in this political battle. For instance, he laments the fact that the political activism of the “religious right” sends a bad message to Christian children that it is appropriate and legitimate to intertwine religion and politics. He charges that Christian children are being taught that global warming and the rape of the environment doesn’t matter. He complains that through the agitation of his base, the religious right, President Bush is pushing the teaching of Creationism in public schools, along side of naturalistic evolution. He sounds the alarm, warning against relgious activism, as he notes that there is a “religious army of foot soldiers (those who have been indoctrinated as children) directed by a political right and they are taking control in small slices. They have taken control of the White House, congress and the judiciary.” Finally, in a segment toward the end, he interviews Becky Fischer, and in the context of arguing with her about the legitimacy of her indoctrination of young children says, “you have a right to teach kids anything but don’t let that bleed into the public sector.” These few comments adequately provide evidence for the axe the movie is trying to grind: Christian activists are indoctrinating Christian children about political issues, particularly abortion, global warming, and the origins of life, and it is dangerous to freedom and must be stopped.

Now, having read these statements of the radio host, who serves as the mouthpiece of the producers to articulate their political philosophy and concerns, I am sure you can seee the irony. He (they, the producers) are saying, “what an outrage, these Christians are teaching these kids ideas and concepts that are designed to effect their behavior and impact the political process!” Like the public education system has not been doing that in America for the last 80 years. I will never forget one of the most honest statements I heard from a liberal professor who taught a Political Science course I once took. He said, “the public education system in America is designed to teach children who the civil authorities are, and how to recognize the symbols of their office.” That is 100 percent correct, and that is indoctrination! The purpose of education is not to teach children who is in charge, it is to provide them with the tools so that they can learn how to think for themselves. However, once education becomes a government institution, it will always end up focusing on indoctrination rather than education because the state cannot separate its own interests from the task of imparting information.

So what is the state's interest that is being communicated through public education? Well, that is obvious, the state wants citizens who recognize government authority, fear and respect government authority, and who have been trained to think and act in predictable ways. The most effective way to accomplish that is to engraft children, from the earliest age possible, into an education system where the goals and interests of the state are constantly reinforced throughout their formative years of life. The primary value of the state that shapes the education system in America is that citizens are actually “resources,” not individual human beings made in the image of God possessing real dignity; therefore, the role of public education is to teach these “resources” how to behave properly, that is, respect the encroaching power of government without asking probing questions about constitutional authority, look to the governemnt for solutions to personal problems such as health care, day care, a job, etc., and to control the biological reproduction of the “resources.” To reinforce this last value, the the education system starts with sex education in Kindergarten and continues it through high school. The government hopes that the “resources” use appropriate birth control so as not to overproduce and thereby lead to greater government costs, but just in case the sex education doesn’t work, it affords the “resources” the “right to privacy” err, abortion in order to control population.

These are the “non-sectarian” political ideas that govern the perspective of the producers of “Jesus Camp.” The bone they have to pick with the religious activists is that they are competing with the liberal establishment which runs the government education system for the hearts, minds, and bodies of children. With the rise of Christian schools, and more particularly the home school movement, which the movie points out consists of evangelical Christians to the tune of 75 percent, the government monopoly on indoctrination (education) has been seriously challenged. That represents an enormous problem for liberals because if enough of these young people grow up to think for themselves, and in turn think of themselves as free individuals, and not government “resources” they just might challenge or overturn the status quo.

For these political liberals to tell tax-paying citizens, parents and religious groups that they don’t have the right to teach children a system of beliefs, morals, and actions if those views spill over into the political realm is utter hypocrisy. That is exactly what the liberal establishment has been doing for decades, and still continues to do. It has indoctrinated generations of children in establishment liberalism through government schools. Through the medium of film, “Jesus Camp” powerfully reminds us that ideas always impact behavior and eventually political systems. Denying this, and pretending that only “sectarian” groups indoctrinate children in order to influence public policy is dishonest and hypocritical, and that’s the irony of “Jesus Camp.”